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8 Things You Didn’t Know About Jockey Silks

There's more to the colorful uniforms horse jockeys wear than you may think.

Silks
A silks display at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs. (Brien Bouyea)

Deciding what to wear to work is the worst part of my morning (well, after actually getting out of bed, of course). Do these shoes work with those pants? Are pencil skirts even in anymore? Will I be too cold in the office? Will I be too hot on the walk there? How do I have so many clothes and nothing to wear? You get the point. If I were a jockey, though, I wouldn’t have to worry about accidentally wearing the same shirt twice in one week: My wardrobe would be set days or even weeks in advance.

Jockey silks, the colorful lightweight “jackets” and matching helmet covers riders wear, are similar to Major League Baseball (MLB) jerseys and batting helmets; they distinguish what team, or in this case, horse owner, the jockey rides for. (So if José Ortiz has a Fortune Farm mount, he knows he’ll be wearing a yellow jacket with a red sash and diamond-printed sleeves.) 

But unlike the MLB, which only has 30 teams, the sport of horse racing has thousands of owners and ownership groups, whose jockeys need to be distinguishable from the rest of the pack, making the process of outfitting them a bit more complex. Here are eight things you might not have known about jockey silks.

1. Silks generally aren’t regulated around the country The Jockey Club strictly regulates silks at New York Racing Association (NYRA) tracks, but there isn’t a single, nationwide governing body doing the same for all the other tracks in the US. Before owners can race a horse in New York, they must first register their silks with The Jockey Club.

2. Each New York track has “house silks” If owners don’t have their own silks or an owner’s silk design gets rejected by The Jockey Club, New York tracks will provide the riders with generic Belmont Park, Aqueduct Racetrack or Saratoga Race Course house silks. 

3. No two silks are alike At least in New York. For more than 125 years, The Jockey Club has overseen the silks registry in the state, which includes more than 25,000 unique designs on registered silks. With 38 patterns available for the jacket’s body, 19 for the sleeves and virtually infinite color and emblem options, jockey silks could come in just about any design—save for the ones that are already in rotation.

4. There are parameters to what can go on silks No copyrighted logos or vulgarities can go on jockey silks, and it’s up to The Jockey Club to determine what constitutes an improper design. One time, an owner wanted to put the silhouette of a naked woman on his silks but was denied. Navy blue is also not a permissible color.

5. Jockey silks aren’t actually made of silk Though jockey silks used to be made of silk, now, most are made of nylon, with more and more being sewn using Lycra and other tight-fitting materials.

6. There’s a “Colors Man” at all NYRA tracks Walter Arce is in charge of the silks room at Saratoga, Belmont and Aqueduct, and has been since Louis Olah, the former NYRA silks man, who was at the job for more than 40 years, passed away in 2008. Arce’s task is to get the right silk to the right jockey at the right time, and he keeps the silks room organized by color. Some trainers who race a lot of horses at a specific track, such as Todd Pletcher at Saratoga, get a special section for their jockeys’ silks in the front of the silks room.

7. Silks cost hundreds of dollars Most jockey silks cost between $150-$300, with more complicated designs commanding an even higher price.

8. You must renew your jockey silks every year Silks are renewable on December 31 of the year they’re registered. It costs owners $100 per year to register their silks with The Jockey Club.

Natalie Moore
Natalie Moore

Natalie Moore is the managing editor at saratoga living.

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